At 35, I consider myself a young pastor. I have people in my church who routinely, thankfully in a joking way, remind me I could be their child. I also realize I am not young enough to be a Millennial. May I provide a younger pastor’s perspective of this year’s Baptist General Convention of Texas annual meeting and its aftermath?
I was in attendance from Sunday night to the end of the session on Tuesday morning. I would like to thank everyone who helped plan and carry out this year’s annual meeting. The workshops have been steadily improving over the last few years, and this year I found myself wanting to go to more than were possible. They were substantive, timely and practical. The worship times were refreshing and challenging. Cleophus LeRue, who is now on my list of people to listen to as much as possible, and Lee Strobel challenged us to share the gospel faithfully and effectively. Add to that the stylistic and culturally diverse worship through music, and it made for one of the best annual meetings I have attended.
Of course, we also have to do business. Although sometimes that is not the most enjoyable part of an organization or our churches, it is necessary and important. I was there for every part of the business sessions. In addition, I read some of the BGCT articles, read most of the Baptist Standard articles, saw social media posts and read more comments on all of these than I probably should have.
I watched Kyndall Rae Rothaus’ Facebook video soon after arriving home on Tuesday. I agree that we should have addressed sexual assault. A confession: About 5 p.m. on Monday, as the resolutions were due, I was talking to a few friends and thought during this convention we should have made a resolution against sexual assault. Of course, we are always against sexual assault, but given what is in the national and local news right now, it would be an appropriate time to make a well-thought-out statement. I know that is just a start in addressing this issue, but I regret I thought of it too late to take that step. I am one person to blame for not bringing that conversation to the surface. I am sorry.
At the same time, I do not believe it precludes us from having the conversation that did come to the convention floor, which was also precipitated by recent events. I appreciate Craig Christina’s humility and thoughtfulness in bringing his motion to the floor If you have not read his full motion, I encourage you to read it in his article in the Baptist Standard.
Although many have seen it as a difficult line to decipher, or a slippery slope, I think he was trying to set a consistent line that was beyond one issue (If anyone desired further clarity, there was always the option to amend the motion. That was probably the only parliamentary option not exercised in our time together.) Although there are many connotations given to this motion, the key term, as I see it, is “affirm”—to maintain something is true.
The question that faced the BGCT was: Do we cease harmonious cooperation with churches who affirm “any sexual relationship outside the bonds of a marriage between one man and one woman” a definition of marriage first articulated by God in the creation of marriage in Genesis 2:24 and restated by Jesus in Matthew 19:4-6?
Setting tent posts
As Baptists, we give each church the right to be autonomous. At the same time, there are doctrinal stances that we have always maintained draw the circle or set the tent posts of affiliation. Some are top-tier theological distinctions, like the nature of God, the person of Christ, the inspiration of Scripture, the condition of humanity and salvation.
We also have drawn the circle on issues that orthodox Christians might differ, which we find vitally important to our theology and worship, namely our views on the Lord’s Supper and baptism, as well as religious freedom and the topic at hand, the autonomy of the local church. While we believe any church of any denomination should have the right to be autonomous—or not, if they so choose—we also believe the state convention or any other association has the same right.
So, the question facing us at the convention was: Does an alternative view of sexual relationships outside the biblical definition of marriage warrant a church finding herself outside that circle, a stance the BGCT has been formally making for almost two decades.
If this were a matter of singling out one sin, homosexual acts, as worse than others, then we have been in dangerous territory. We should welcome people who struggle with all different sins into our congregations, at the same time remembering that we ourselves are sinners. The way we treat homosexuality should be no different from the way we treat cohabitation. Craig Christina’s motion kept this needed breadth, while his introductory remarks reminded us of our sinful condition. This should encourage all of us to work more diligently to have welcoming churches.
At the root, this discussion was not a matter of making one particular sin worse than any other sin. The heart of this discussion is about our doctrine of sin. I believe this is a top-tier theological issue.
The only reason homosexual acts are in the middle of this conversation is because it is the only sin that churches have affirmed not to be a sin. The problem would be exactly the same if we said cohabitation is not a sin, stealing is not a sin or murder is not a sin. Although gossip happens in many of our churches, and we might not work as hard as we should to curtail it, I have not found a church willing to claim it is not a sin.
When we say any sin is not a sin, our view of Scripture, the condition of humanity, and our need for salvation are all at stake. In 1 John, known for its wonderful passages about love, we find very challenging statements about sin: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8-10).
We should take seriously the consequence of striking a sin, which has biblical and historical precedence, from the list. In this regard, the decision the BGCT was asked to reaffirm this year is about top-tier theological issues that belong in the discussions of where we draw the circle.
The future …
What about our future? There has been a characterization stated that many young pastors did not and would not speak in favor of Christina’s motion. My perception of my peers is that portrayal is not accurate.
Either way, if we want to be relevant in our world today, we cannot do so by redefining sin or seeking to look and think like the newest generation. Our relevancy comes from Jesus Christ. I did not come to Jesus so I could remain who I was. I came because I needed forgiveness, and I needed to change. I realize every day I still need to be transformed. I am grateful God’s sanctifying work is not complete. Jesus’ reoccurring call is: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34-38).
If we are going to share the gospel, it must include this call. If we are going to focus on evangelism and discipleship, we cannot dilute or justify these words in order to make them more palatable. At the same time, if we are going to be concerned about our witness, we must also love one another. In John 13:34-35, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Encouraged, challenged, sad
I left that Tuesday morning meeting encouraged and challenged by Lee Strobel, but also a little sad. We love each other, and it is never enjoyable to have to make the decisions we had to make. We do not relish it.
To me, it seemed the tone in the room maintained love and respect among brothers and sisters in Christ, even in the midst of disagreement. René Maciel reminded us to show him grace, bringing levity to a difficult meeting for anyone to moderate. Singing Kumbaya served to lighten the mood and provide a good reminder.
Even if you did not quite see it the way I did, I think we all can agree the discussion was, at the very least, civil. No one yelled, accused or questioned anyone’s motives. While we met with each other, we were loving and kind. In the hallway and over lunch afterwards, we were loving and kind as we talked with friends, some whom we agreed with and others who have a different viewpoint.
In contrast, I have been grieved as I have seen posts on social media and read comments sections on articles that portray a very different spirit than was in the room. Why are we kind when we are together and lash out when we are in public? Why do we allow the comment sections of Facebook posts and news feeds to nullify our witness? If we can love when in the same room, we can love when spread across the state. It is possible to disagree in a loving way.
I do not say this out of concern for the reputation of a state convention, but something infinitely more important—the reputation of the God we love and serve. Let us not forget that we have been challenged to faithfully share the gospel and make disciples. May that guide our words and actions.
Chad Bertrand is pastor of First Baptist Church in Gatesville.